Piety & Popularity
Peter’s denial of Christ was his Bathsheba—the fall from grace of a great saint that took many tears to bring about complete restoration. His denial, like most things the big fisherman did, was bold, brash, and emphatic. Most people, however, aren’t quite so ardent, either for good or for evil.
While many of us would be loathe to completely disown our Redeemer, we may be, shall we say, less inclined to let others know our position on abortion or special rights for homosexuals or any other politically incorrect stance that we might hold based on our understanding as Christians. In this sense, the outward denial of our faith is a much more subtle thing for us than it was for Peter.
While it could be argued that this is a reflection of the political climate, the real problem is much more basic. In short, it is this: most of us are afraid of being thought of as pious. We don’t want to be seen by our non-Christian friends and colleagues as people who would spend hours praying. We do not want to be thought of as someone who would take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. We don’t want to be labeled “religious” or, even worse, “fundamentalist.” We do not want to be thought of first and foremost as virginal or devout.
Recently I was at a meeting in the office of a colleague and was surprised to find the walls adorned with Christian art—mostly Renaissance pieces. When someone mentioned this, my colleague was quick to apologize, and even threw in an off-color remark just for effect. This person’s actions aren’t that unusual. We all have our own way of denying that there might be a glimmer of piety within us—a part of us that wants to be in the presence of God.
“A real man strives to be pious,” wrote St. Anthony, many years before the invention of quiche and other modern tests of manliness. He added “If anyone should praise such a man, he would smile inwardly at those who praise him; if anyone defames him, he does not defend himself against those who abuse him and is not indignant at what they say of him.”
Of course, we shouldn’t boast of our acts of piety, or even speak of them at all. But that does not mean that we are to be afraid of being identified as one who would hold our Lord’s teachings in earnest, no matter how unpopular they may be. We shouldn’t necessarily expect to be understood or appreciated, but as Christians we ought not to be defensive either. We are not called to apologize for the socially awkward positions taken by our Savior.
We are called to be holy, to love God, and to love his commandments. Changing the appearance of the image of God or his commands so that they seem more palatable for others is deceitful. But worse yet, denying whatever measure of holiness we have acquired is to deny that God has been or even can be real in reaching out to us.
Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.
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“Piety & Popularity” first appeared in the Winter 1993 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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